Rumsfeld′s NATO Comments Smoothed Over | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 13.06.2003
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Rumsfeld's NATO Comments Smoothed Over

Outspoken U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said NATO's Brussels headquarters could be moved if Belgium war crimes law isn't changed. The country's foreign minister says enough has already been done.


Rumsfeld (l.) and the NATO General Secretary: The U.S. will withold money for a planned NATO headquarters expansion.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stunned his Belgian hosts on Thursday when he suggested NATO headquarters could be moved elsewhere in light of a Belgian war crimes law.

Rumsfeld, in Brussels for a meeting at NATO headquarters, said the law, which allows Belgian courts to try foreigners for alleged war crimes not matter where they occurred, provides a "platform for divisive politicized lawsuits against her NATO allies.

"It shouldn't take a genius to understand it's a problem," the outspoken U.S. defense secretary told reporters. "It would obviously not be easy for U.S. officials or potentially coalition officials, civilian or military, to come to Belgium for meetings. Certainly until this matter is resolved we will have to oppose any further spending for construction for a new NATO headquarters here in Brussels."

Belgium: We already changed the law

U.S. General Tommy Franks, who lead the successful U.S. military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, became the latest target of the law after a group of 19 Baghdad residents filed a war crimes lawsuit against him a few weeks ago. The suit has since been referred to the U.S. by Belgian authorities eager to ease an already strained transatlantic relationship.

Belgium's foreingn minister, Louis Michel, said his country had already taken steps to change the law. The legislature passed an amendment last year that gave prosecutors greater discretion to throw out lawsuits.

"I want to say, once again, to Mr. Rusmfeld, that Belgium has already changed the war crimes law," Michel said. "We changed it, in order to mitigate the concerns of our American friends."

In addition to Franks, Rumsfeld listed other U.S. officials, including U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Gulf War commander General Norman Schwarzkopf and former U.S. President George Bush Sr. who have been targets of the lawsuit.

He said it was up to Belgium, a "sovereign state," to decide what to do about the law. Further U.S. funding for an expanded NATO headquarters, however, would be withheld until something was done.

"It is perfectly possible to meet elsewhere," he said.

Other NATO defense ministers, in Belgium for the meeting, said the media should not overreact to Rumsfeld's comments.

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